Dr. No

Graywolf. Nov. 2022. 232p. ISBN 9781644452080. pap. $16. F
While Everett’s recent Booker-nominated The Trees cut its mystery and horror with a dose of dark humor, his latest is an unabashedly wonky romp, with things up to a wonderfully deadpan 11. The novel follows Wala Kitu, a mathematics professor who is an expert on nothing—that is, the tangible existence of “nothing,” which means it is something—as he is roped into a nefarious plot orchestrated by would-be Bond villain John Sills, who wants to rob Fort Knox—not of gold but of a shoe box full of nothing that he would use, vindictively, to make the racist United States into…nothing. Are you following? The result feels situated somewhere on the continuum between a punchline and the answer to a riddle, a droll “Rube Goldberg”–ian caper in the vein of Charles Yu’s How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe; imagine Jerry Lewis wandering into a spy thriller. But this bit of wittily supercharged comedy is carried out with full conviction and craft from Everett, delivering hilarious dialogs that continuously pinwheel around elliptical metaphysical theory and a who’s-on-first brand of linguistic playfulness.
VERDICT A go-for-broke work of literary comedy that successfully blends rib-tickling eccentricity with affecting and stealthily moving discourse on race, wealth, and the failures of neoliberal institutions; you’re unlikely to read anything funnier this year.
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